Imagine animating the surging throngs in James Ensor's monumental 1888 masterpiece, "Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889," with its grotesque painted caricatures of mobs populating church and state and engulfed in an alarming aura of surging madness. You'll have some idea of what Federico Solmi's "The Brotherhood" is like.
At Luis De Jesus Gallery, eight LED monitors and a room-size installation for a suite of five more monitors transform paintings into disturbing video-pageants. The New York-based artist frames the moving imagery with piles of debris painted directly on the screens, heavy on the logos of consumer trash. What is on the televisions is rubbish made remarkable.
"The Brotherhood" is composed of world leaders, past and present: George Washington, Pope Benedict XVI, Montezuma, Otto von Bismarck, Mussolini, Abraham Lincoln and more — almost all of them men. A few women do turn up, notably Marie Antoinette and Byzantine Empress Theodora, but they are feminine exceptions to the testosterone-fueled rule.
In the animations the Brotherhood struts down red carpets to the flash of camera lights, descends imposing flights of stairs and socializes at a magnificent ball on the fashionably gross order of New York's famous Met Gala. The installation work, dubbed "The Ballroom," is set up like a theater, complete with crimson curtains, and our job is to passively gape. Black waiters haul giant champagne bottles and enormous lobsters on silver trays to a cohort of dancing celebrity power, textbook leaders and villains who get increasingly intoxicated as the sumptuous event wears on.
Solmi deftly employs sophisticated 3-D and video-game technology as an armature for his disquieting video work. Wrapping the gussied-up characters and their vulgar scenography in hand-painted pictures that have been digitally fed into his computer, he creates passages that make Heath Ledger's Joker seem sedate. On the soundtrack, organ-grinder music rumbles amid rising tides of cheering.
The hypnotic result is garish, puppet-like figures that seem to float through space, rather like Macy's Thanksgiving parade balloons run amok. At once thrilling and chilling, the monstrous spectacles are a wickedly funny distillation of modern media mayhem.
Luis De Jesus Gallery, 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City. Through July 9. Closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 838-6000, www.luisdejesus.com